By MARYMICHELLE LOTANO
Growing up, there was no way to avoid human interaction. If we wanted company, we had to ring a doorbell and ask someone to come out and play. We could not go online and play a game with a remote child, nor could we flip on our Xbox and immerse ourselves in riveting fantasy. As we got older, if we went out on a date and it went bad, we still had to make conversation. The night could not be saved by scrolling through Facebook or answering text messages from a distant human.
As a result of what now seems like forced socialization, we learned to initiate our own adventures, risk being rejected, communicate via an actual conversation and contend with social conflict. It was a challenge. Yet, it created bonds and learning experiences that cannot be substituted. When we had to look a friend in the eye, knowing they were angry with us, we learned that there are consequences to our behaviour. If we had a crush on the person who sat next to us in history class, we had to approach them in the hallway to get to know them better. And if we wanted to make a new friend, we had to engage them in conversation, rather than innocuously reviewing their social profile.
But, today, we have taken many steps away from personalizing our relationships. Parents exchange information via text, so the sound of a loving spouse during the day is lessened. Colleagues communicate through email, so the conversation of business is impersonal. Friends show emotion through tiny little symbols, rather than an intimate understanding of the tone of another person’s voice. It’s all very impersonal and its impact is significant.
It is too easy for us to arrive at the point where we no longer want to interact or are too apathetic to seek true emotional and physical warmth. It is ridiculously convenient to simply unplug ourselves from the presence of another and connect to people and issues that are beyond arm’s length, creating a void for those who are in the same room with us.
The consequences of our new found socialization process is that we are reducing our intimate connections to one another and to our surroundings. We have allowed a plethora of distractions into our lives that are easier and more convenient than interacting with each other. When we sit in a restaurant and each family member is on a cell phone, the family is no longer creating unity. Instead, they are absent from the moment and from each other.
It is time to recreate the art of intimate interaction. But this takes true emotional effort. Our attention span for one another must be revived. We have to learn that we cannot “plug” into another person and scroll through them, moving quickly past the things we find uninteresting and slowing down for those qualities that peak our curiosity. Being emotionally close to another human spirit demands that we intertwine ourselves with the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of those we have relationships with. The ability to reunite with the purpose of our relationships with one another requires each of us to commit to changing our personal social dynamics.
I have taken the first step to rewind back into the days of true relating. Recently, I initiated a new personal policy. I do not use a cell phone if I am in the presence of another human being. Any human being. This includes my son, friends, family and anyone else. Now, when I exit the car, the phone finds a new resting place inside of the centre console. If I must take it with me, the ringer is off.
And here is what has changed:
- I’m attentive, present and focused;
- I listen better, talk less and fully engage;
- I have a new appreciation for each person I am with and have increased my attention span. And I’ve stopped caring about who might be looking for me;
- I honour the moment, the presence of the soul next to me and the time God saw fit to bestow upon me and my chosen companion;
- I gain connection, insight and the respect of the person I am with;
- I give my undivided attention, my essence, my core self.
The person I am with knows they are my priority. They are truly significant and are all that matters in the moment. There is no greater gift we can give to those we are getting to know, to lifelong friends and to those we love.
Give the gift. Abandon the phone.
Author of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit: circlesofthesoul.net.